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November 22, 2010

USDA ORACBA Risk Forum Discusses Moving Beyond Nanogeneralities

Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

On November 16, 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Risk-Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis (ORACBA) convened a Risk Forum on “Moving Beyond Nanogeneralities — Providing Focus to Nanopolicy Progress.” Presenters included Richard Canady, Ph.D., DABT, Director, Center for Human Health Risk Assessment Research Foundation of the International Life Sciences Institute; Steve Froggett, Expert Consultant, ICF International, Inc; and Guillaume Gruere, International Food Policy Research Institute. The speakers propose that the issues concerning nanotechnology and nanomaterials are so varied, broad, and controversial that they impeded the development of beneficial uses, even where the risks are negligible. The speakers suggest that, early in any discussion or in any risk assessment of nanomaterial uses, the problem selection and problem formulation are critical. If the selection and formulation are done well, regulators and stakeholders can make progress in risk assessment policy and risk management of specific uses of nanomaterials. The slides are available online.

While nanotechnology could potentially improve food safety and reduce environmental contamination, achieving those goals means addressing concerns, such as:

  • Whether nanoscale materials need new risk assessment methodologies, or special consideration of uncertainty in safety assessment; and
  • Can regulatory “collateral damage” of general definitions for nanomaterials on benign materials and highly beneficial uses be avoided?

Challenges to data development include:

  • Inconsistent use of available measurement methods and uncertainty about what new metrics are necessary;
  • Consequent difficulty in developing weight of evidence across studies; and
  • The dynamic nature of nanomaterial mixtures that make problem formulation an even more critical component in risk analysis.

Public perception of nanotechnology risk has led to calls for labeling and may have slowed adoption of systems incorporating nanotechnology. Benefits to food safety and security are also delayed. The speakers recommend using risk analysis with a focus on the specifics. A strategy for progress is to reach consensus on the simple, beneficial uses.

The next Risk Forum will be December 3, 2010, on “Application of a Multicriteria Decision Making Model Based on Probabilistic Inversion to Assess Nanotechnology-Enabled Food Products.” The Risk Forum presentation will be an extended version of the 20-minute presentation that the speakers will make at the December 6, 2010, Society for Risk Analysis meeting. More information will be posted online.